Tag Archive 'charles'

Mar 07 2010

A New Found Appreciation

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, she goes undercover to investigate necessary service jobs and what it is like living in them.  She worked low-wage jobs to try to see if she could live for a few months in three different locations as a maid, waitress, and at Wal-Mart.  Much of her book is about how taxing low-wage jobs were on her body.  She describes how hard it was to find jobs and how many stores leave up “Help Wanted” signs even if there is no shortage of labor.  One of the biggest  problems she describes that faces low-income people working these jobs is fact that there are so many people vying for them.  This excess of labor means that exploiting workers is easy, because employees are constantly reminded that they could be fired in exchange of others.  As a result, changing labor conditions is almost impossible.

While discussing the book in class, we talked a lot about the current state of the economy and how the situation must be even worse.  My guess is that the waitresses are paid even less for even more work, maids get tipped even less, and the Wal-Mart employees are way too scared to even think of unionizing.  Someone in class said “the fact that we even need unions is baffling,” and when I thought about it, this made a lot of sense.  We are all humans.  We’re all trying to get a job to support ourselves and our families to make a living.  So, why would you exploit your workers?  They’re trying to have jobs for the reasons, but they happen to have a lower socioeconomic status.  It is unnecessary to do this to your fellow humans!

Over break I went to Wal-Mart to get a few groceries, and while I was there I developed a new found respect for the employees.  Not only there, but also the housekeeping staff for my dorm.  I wondered how many of these people are living out of cars or barely making rent.  I am lucky to be able to go to college and have had a job in high school to help support myself.  Even though my parents don’t support me I could have it way worse.

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Feb 22 2010

Recycling – an American tradition… until now.

In Susan Strasser’s Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, Strasser meticulously combs through American history to trace the history of American perspectives on recycling.  The first half of the book focuses on pre mass production and industrialized America, in which most of the focus of recycling focused on reusing textiles. In a time when women sewed clothes for the family, cloth was an essential and expensive commodity.   Strasser outlines the ways in which women were encouraged to patch holes in clothes, to wear them to rags, and to hopefully refit them for younger, smaller children.  A major advocate for this was Catharine Beecher, who was “the Martha Stewart of the Antebellum Period.”   She gave instructions for women on how to be thriftier with their clothes, the first of its kind.  Strasser then takes the reader to more modern times, giving us more insight into how our modern lives affect our surroundings.

In class we talked mostly about the last part of the book, spending a large amount of time discussing trash and where it goes.  A term that came up in class that I am interested in is the “Not in My Backyard” phenomenon.  We can’t begin to imagine having a world where trash collectors don’t take our garbage away, but where does it go?  Dumps and landfills occupy the parts of town that are low income, usually neighborhoods of color, where the residents don’t have a loud and influential enough voice to effective oppose such monstrosities.  The trash has to go somewhere, and rich white people aren’t going to allow it go across the street from where their kids go to school.  I remember watching a special on television about trash a few years ago, and I remember learning about how some states actually make money by allowing other states to dump their trash across state lines.  This is true for New York City, whose trash goes to nearby New Jersey.  The special showed the grueling and oftentimes impossible tasks that NYC trash collectors undertake getting trash out of the city and into NJ.  But, after reading Strasser, I’m left with the lingering idea that maybe we don’t need so much stuff.

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Feb 14 2010

Hyperion – Saturday February 13

Published by under Reflection Blog

Who: Agent Charles

Where: Downtown Fredericksburg

More Specifically: Hyperion Espresso and the Toy Shop

Weather: A chilly, windy 30F

When: Saturday, February 13, 2010, 2pm

While contemplating this project, I decided that in keeping with the spirit of “observing” shoppers, aka spying on them, I thought that it would only make sense if on the walk there I wore these spy glasses that I so joyously received for Christmas.  Just thought I’d set the scene there.

I started at Hyperion, admittedly because I was cold, but also because what better place to observe people where it’s normal to sit around?  Hyperion Espresso is one of the two major coffee establishments in downtown Fredericksburg, the other is The Griffin.  The Griffin, however, sells books to complement the caffeine.  Hyperion is the typical American coffee shop.  The only major flaw I see with Hyperion is the way that the store is set up.  The store has a major floor section, then on their second floor is more seating.  To go with this second section the establishment also has a second counter.  However, I have never seen this counter used, and I suspect that it hasn’t seen use in quite a while.  My guess is that the counter wasn’t as profitable as the owners foresaw, and now it would cost too much money to take it down. So, there is stands.  It also takes up an enormous amount of space, thus prompting the employees to occasionally announce that any long-lasting patrons should consider giving up their seats to new-comers.  This happened once yesterday, but most of the traffic in the store was families, and lots of babies.  My favorite kid was a young girl with a man (presumably her father) who just came in to use the bathroom.  While she used the bathroom he stood outside the door “to stand guard” and while he went she sat in a chair and “the nice man [at the next table] would make sure nothing happened to her.” I thought about this for a minute and I considered how I remember as a kid being taught that if anything bad ever happened to me on the street that I should find a nice looking lady to tell her what happened.  Kids are taught to trust women and this is enforced by women occupying most of their caregiving (stay at home moms, female teachers, teenage girls as babysitters).  But, this man, instead of suggesting that the woman sitting across from me (who indeed looked feminine) would watch her, it was instead the normal looking man.  Upon thinking of this later, the father might have suggested a man since he himself was a man.

My guess for the large amount of children in Hyperion was because the snow was finally melting and the kids and adults were experiencing extreme cabin fever.  I could tell that many of the adults wanted desperately to stay and sit a while, but resolved to the fact that the presence of their children would probably inhibit their chances of doing so.

I enjoyed watching the parents order for their kids because I kept seeing the same conversation on a loop:

Caregiver: What would you like?

Kid: I don’t know.

Caregiver: How about hot chocolate?

Kid: Yes please!

Every guardian gave the kid the option of what they wanted, but then always suggested the winner – hot chocolate.   Why not simply suggest this in the first place?

Hyperion is not an especially kid-friendly place, as evidenced by the hard seating, limited spacing, and high counter.  As a result, families did not stay long.  When kids started crying or getting upset, the parents would give an apologetic smile to the studying students as if to say You’ll understand someday, and they’d leave to stop further embarrassment.

But, don’t worry parents, I don’t mind. I’d be cranky if I was a five-year-old in a coffee shop, too.

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Feb 08 2010

Latinos, Inc.

Published by under Reflection Blog

Latinos, Inc. by Arlene Dávila provides an insightful and overlooked view into the way that the United States markets products to people of Latino background.  One of her major discussion points is the way in which the United States markets an image that the ideal American Latino should have.  This image encompasses a nuclear family that is not white, but a mix of white and Hispanic.  American marketers have an idea that the Latino family is bilingual, and tend to put many advertisements geared toward this population in “Spainglish.”  These stereotypes do not feed into just one country in Latin America, but instead American marketers generalize all Latinos into one marketable lump.
As we talked about in class, this has a negative impact on the white American’s view on Latinos.  It does not recognize the fact that the Latino population is a diverse group, and, as the film pointed out, most Latinos identify more with their country of origin rather than their Latino identity.
We brought up the fact that Americans often think that in American we speak English, and “learn it or get out,” when in reality, there are places in the United States were Spanish or French is a legal second language.  These calls for homogenization of languages and cultures are counter-productive, forgetting that old adage about us being a “melting pot” or “salad.”  While these two may have different connotations (melting pot giving more of an idea of blending in, salad lending itself to images of diversity) they both recognize the fact that America is built upon different cultures and ideals.  And, with the Hispanic population becoming so big that salsa outsells ketchup (!), this is definitely a group that America needs to pay attention to.


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Jan 31 2010

America and the Global Economy

Published by under Reflection Blog

While the majority of Schor’s book talks about the average American and their spending habits, the conclusion of The Overspent American puts our wallets into perspective with America and the global economy.  Schor discredits theories that spending less will throw the world into depression.  She argues that if everyone (although she notes that it is impossible for the entire world to go along with this) spent less, they would need less, then work less, thus putting us into a normal routine again.  These are noble ideas, and I wish I could see them played out, but of course it won’t happen unless we’re all forced to do it.  And, I can’t help but think that even if everyone did spend less and everyone went down an equal number of notches in spending, working, and production, everyone would still be going down in equal numbers.  This means that the poor would still be poor and the rich would still be rich.  It doesn’t matter that the rich would be poorer, because they still have more money than everyone else.  The titles of “rich” and “poor” are relative terms that don’t have definite amounts put on them.  Even if this idealistic world of spending less existed, it wouldn’t matter if everyone did it.

Of course, the fact that many of Schor’s ideas are unrealistic didn’t stop me from looking into my own spending habits.  I am super, super poor.  This book definitely affected the way that I think about spending.  I unsubscribed from the e-mails from Gap, Old Navy, and Urban Outfitters.  I go into stores with a shopping list and think long hard about buying anything off of that list.  Friday night I went to the grocery store to buy rice milk (expensive but necessary for me), fruit, and something healthy to snack on (I ended up with dried apples).  I went out with those items plus batteries (which I needed but forgot to put on the list), and a softer lightbulb for my roommate’s light.  I felt proud of not being anything unnecessary and I am happy that we read this book because it is actually making an impact on my life!


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Jan 24 2010

Mary Washington Versus National Spending Culture?

In Juliet B. Schor’s 1999 book The Overspent American, she analyzes how Americans have changed the culture of consumerism into a “see-want-borrow-buy” mode, thus putting many in positions where they have to choose between debt or giving into a culture that states that material possessions make happiness.  This book is a fascinating look at an aspect of our culture that, for many, is a way of life.   Schor’s main argument explains that the mass media advertises to millions of people with a product that not all of those millions are intended to buy.  Because of this mass marketing, the poor yearn for products and lifestyles from television and advertisements that they see.  Schor argues that shift in the media brought about a new way of living.  Before television, Americans compared themselves to neighbors and friends, only bothering to keep up with the latest and greatest on the block.  But now that all Americans can see MTV’s Cribs and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, we compare ourselves to the people that more than us.  This negatively affects bank statements and financial futures of the those that buy into this new consumerism culture.

Before class discussion, Josh and Allison asked us all to write down our most recent purchases.  As someone pointed out, we all stated what we bought, but then gave immediate justification for why we bought it or what kind of a deal we got on it.  At first I wondered about whether or not this was an effect of the current economy and the way that it is hip to frugal these days, but I realized that it would have happened two years ago, too.  But not everyone in this exercise would necessarily try to downplay their purchases.  It’s a cliche example for this class, but it fits so well – the women on The Real Housewives Of… show would have no problem stating their last purchase, and probably even brag about how much money they spent.  I think that while we might not all be of the same social or economic class, we all do go to the same school, where there is a money norm. We’re “broke college students,” or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves.  I’m sure that there are people that are not broke, but I definitely am. Therefore, to have started the class saying “I bought a seat cushion for my bike,” would not have worked for me.  I cannot afford a car; I’m paying for my own college and other expenses.  Therefore, my bike is how I get around on and off campus.  So, I have to end that sentence with “… my seat is really uncomfortable and I ride my bike around everywhere.”  When, really aren’t we feeding into consumer culture in a way, just by stating that we don’t?  We are all fitting a mold of frugality.  Like Schor said, shopping is advertised as a way to be different, but it really just ends up in people looking the same.  I guess that by us not spending much money we are actually more similar in our spending habits than at first glance.

As a final note, I want to share something.

In class we were talking about ways to not spend money, and someone mentioned “lifting babies as weights.”  At the risk of not being able to find it and also being that obnoxious kid that isn’t really on topic, I didn’t share this while we were in class.  However, here is a funny video from College Humor about the “Stay at Home Dad Workout.”  I’m not sure how to embed from College Humor, so just click here. No, but seriously. It’s funny.


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